Are BBC and CNN to blame for UN silence on Syria?

Nicholas Wheeler might argue so.

In a carefully researched essay, he debunks the Marxist, Chomskyian myth that humanitarian intervention is merely a cloak under which the US justifies its hegemonic status and continues to pursue its interests by simply asking how the hell such a theory can make sense of why the Bush administration of the early 90s decided to suddenly back action in Somalia, despite a total absence of any strategic interest there whatsoever.

In fact, if you study carefully the change in US policy on this matter and trace the direction in which officials went, and – crucially – what they said about why they adapted as they did, it becomes clear that television footage was key. The media mobilised the population into concern for the plight of distant foreigners for the first time, and as this spilt over into Congressional and Presidential concerns, the will grew to back a new norm: sovereignty as a responsibility, which if abused in this way, requires intervention.

And I can’t help but think this helps to shed light on the disparity we see at the moment: Libya and Syria are undoubtedly moral equivalents. Both have humanitarian crises on an unimaginable scale. And yet for one we pounced with surprising pace and efficacy; on the other, the Council has kept largely quiet.

Which have we had more coverage of? Libya. The press were all over it. Syria, in contrast, has been impossible to report on in the same way because of travel restrictions, the absence of visas.

The lesson seems to be that tyrants would do well to adopt a policy of Keeping Journalists Out.

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